Migrated from eDJGroupInc.com. Author: Greg Buckles. Published: 2013-11-06 19:00:00Format, images and links may no longer function correctly. 

Disclosure: eDJ’s Working Analyst model means that I AM a consultant, even if I don’t directly handle cases any more. This means that we do not cover the strategic consulting market. This blog/rant could be considered self promotional, despite my best efforts to avoid any bias. Be an informed, cynical reader of every free blog, white paper or article. 

Are you wandering in an eDiscovery wilderness? Everyone working in the eDiscovery market has to balance the confidential, privileged nature of our work against the need for advice, perspective and knowledge to meet constantly changing requirements, tools and challenges. In the very earliest days of eDiscovery, the litigation support village was small enough that we could use the Yahoo list and personal contacts to vette process and technical questions. The 2006 FRCP brought eDiscovery obligations into the spotlight and raised the consequences for ignorance or willful disregard. The vast majority of eDiscovery practitioners have less than 5 years of direct experience, although many bring substantial tangential experience to the table. Mature industries have developed resource systems for user education, certifications, social networking, standards bodies, productized templates, analyst reports and standardized consulting offerings. All of these resources are still in their infancy where discovery intersects information governance. So what do you do when you need real strategic or tactical advice?

The large service providers cultivated and employed the majority of eDiscovery experts from the early days when that meant being a computer forensic specialist. I got my start as a police CSI (called a Criminalist before Gil Grisham made it sexy) using DOS utilities, home-made drive copy stations and the first desktop legal software in the 1990’s. Other eDiscovery pioneers were hijacked from corporate IT, law firm paralegals, copy shops and more into a field with high stakes-rewards and few rules other than ‘get it right fast’. I believe that the standardization on the volume based ($/GB) pricing model actually devalued early consultants. Project management and the supporting expert advice became a free ‘value add’ for six and seven figure processing-hosting invoices. When a GB of data cost $2000+, providers could afford to parachute in $250-300/hour experts to support the client. Those days are long gone and most providers have never developed the marketing and sales infrastructure to support true consultants.

So where does that leave you when you need unbiased expertise to guide you through the latest ESI source, predictive voodoo or magistrate judge’s mandate? The sad fact is that the slow consolidation within the eDiscovery market has put increasing pressure on consultants with deep eDiscovery experience. The very largest of the audit and consulting firms (FTI, Huron, Navigant, Kroll Ontrack, PWC, Ernst & Young, Deloitte, to name a few) have become the last refuge of the top talent, with a few familiar faces anchoring new law firm based service divisions. Solo consultants are rare and most have referral partner agreements with service providers. There is nothing wrong with these relationships as long as they are disclosed up front and the consultant recluses themselves from advice in which they have an economic stake. Hard to do, but we have some good people in the market. Don’t be afraid to look for help from your providers, but engage them in a formal consulting relationship instead of some kind of quasi-sales evangelist role. A formal relationship avoids any confusion about ethical obligations.

This piece has inspired me to write a more expansive report on ‘How to get the most out of your eDiscovery consultant’. I recommend that you make yourself write down some things before you look for outside advice.

  • Scope – what does the pain point cover?
  • Time Frame – How long will the engagement/relationship last?
  • Expertise – What expertise is needed beyond eDiscovery?
  • Source – Where can you find this expertise?
  • Goals – What change do you expect the consultant to effect?
  • Deliverables – What form will the expertise be delivered in?
  • Funding – Who will pay for the consultant?
  • Engagement Models – How will be consultant be paid for the value they provide?

I highly encourage you to re-examine where you go to get eDiscovery answers. If your service provider has a guru or Subject Matter Expert (SME) that you consistently rely on for advice, then put your money up to make sure that advice does not have a hidden sales agenda. Recognize your pain points and do not hesitate to engage a consultant with real expertise to translate them into a realistic solution plan. Our market needs educated consumers who have the maturity to recognize the hidden bias in provider white papers and the enormous sales pressure on provider SME’s that are not directly compensated.

Greg Buckles can be reached at Greg@eDJGroupInc for offline comments or questions. His active research topics include mobile device discovery, the discovery impact of the cloud, Microsoft’s 2013 eDiscovery Center and multi-matter discovery. Recent consulting engagements include managing preservation during enterprise migrations, legacy tape eliminations, retention enablement and many more.

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